As Violet from “Willy Wonka” or someone who just saw a spider will tell you, bigger isn’t necessarily better. An afterthought for most normals until Oscar night, short films are often bite-sized bits of delightful wonder. Heck, sometimes they even grow up to be feature-length films, as was the case with Jennifer Kent’s Monster, which became The Babadook, which became the best film in all of 2014… Let’s take a peek at this year’s crop!
Animated Short Films
The Bigger Picture
Director: Daisy Jacobs
If the Academy’s racial affront this year shows off the worst of their process, The Bigger Picture is a demonstration of the best. Innovative, weird and just the right kind of morbid, this mixed-medium work focuses on two brothers dealing with an aging mother and deserves attention. Like a deliciously morose Yeats poem, this may not be what you think of when you hear “animated short,” but gosh darn it, it should be.
Grade = A+
The Dam Keeper
Directors: Robert Kondo, Daisuke Tsutsumi
If you see one film with a talking pig who wears a gas mask and is bullied by an alligator and a hippo, you will have seen The Dam Keeper. The beautiful, fuzzy watercolor style adds a storybook feel to this fable of friendship and trust, as the pig who runs the windmill that keeps his town safe from pollution is woefully mistreated. Chilling and fresh, I promise you won’t soon forget the image of a breathing apparatus designed for someone with a snout.
Grade = A
Director: Patrick Osborne
Look, I ain’t gonna lie, resisting a floppy-eared pup named Winston who delights in munching on junk food is virtually impossible. As Winston’s schlubby owner falls for an effete foodie, the doggie becomes the key to love. I’m still kind of baffled how it took three people to write a story that’s nearly entirely a dog eating things, but it’s charming in its simplicity and another solid, if unremarkable, entry from Disney.
Grade = B
A Single Life
Directors: Marieke Blaau, Joris Oprins, Job Roggeveen
Feast may have 3 writers, but it took 3 directors for a short that’s less than 3 minutes. The conceit is that an old vinyl record marked “A Single Life” acts as a sort of time machine. By placing the needle in different grooves, a woman is able to see her past and future. The flat, exaggerated design evokes Claymation, but stops short of the warmth and charisma of that form. It’s cute enough but only half clever and leagues behind most other shorts.
Grade = C-
Me and My Moulton
Director: Torill Kove
Every year, one short is included that leaves me wondering if it was nepotism or bribery that resulted in its nomination. Meet Me and My Moulton, which looks like a worse version of “Doug,” the old TV show from Disney. Its script is essentially the single most boring teenage diary. Set in Norway, a middle child laments her unusual parents and longs for a bicycle. If you forced me to at gunpoint, I couldn’t conceive of how this inert, monotonous, sometimes downright-ugly-to-look-at film merited inclusion. Don’t worry, it’s also way too long.
Grade = F
Live-Action Short Films
Directors: Oded Binnun, Mihal Brezis
Have you ever listened to a song that seems to be all crescendo and no climax? Aya seemed to be working towards the kind of muted profundity Lost in Translation mastered. Then it just kinda ended. A woman standing at an airport is asked to hold a sign for a driver while he runs an errand. Only, when the person the driver was waiting for shows up, the woman decides she likes him so she pretends to be his driver. Long, quiet conversation that always seems on the precipice of revelatory only fades into a weird reflection on the sporadic joy of meeting strangers.
Grade = C
Director: Talkhon Hamzavi
An Afghani girl placed in the Swiss Alps for asylum tries to send money back to her family and winds up befriending a wild young gal who is pretty much her diametric opposite. Nissa Kashani, who plays the title character, is impressively subtle and believably entranced at stumbling into a world she had seemingly run parallel to all her life. Little more than a meditation on cultural collisions, which may be obnoxious at feature length but is pleasant enough as a nugget like this.
Grade = B
The Phone Call
Director: Mat Kirkby
While not quite Amour, it’s decidedly Amour-esque, at least in the sense that you can go ahead and abandon any hope of smiling for a good long stretch after you see this one. A shy lass (Sally Hawkins) takes a call at a crisis center from a depressed man (Jim Broadbent) who has taken more than enough pills to kill himself. So, it’s like 20 minutes of the insanely talented Hawkins and Broadbent discussing life and heartbreaking sadness. It’s an emotional wallop of the absolute best kind.
Grade = A
Boogaloo and Graham
Director Michael Lennox
In Belfast, Ireland in 1978, the religious divide between the Catholics and Protestants takes a backseat to the lives of chickens. Two young boys are given chicks by their Da, but when their Ma gets pregnant, she demands the “filthy creatures” begone. Never come between a boy and his chicken. The feisty Irish boys are actually pretty great little actors, and this charming tale of fatherly love is downright jaunty and surprisingly well produced.
Grade = B+
Butter Lamp (La Lampe Au Beurre De Yak)
Director: Wei Hu
If Butter Lamp is saying something meaningful and important, which I admit it may be, I’d very much like someone to explain it to me. A young photographer and his friend take pictures of Tibetan nomads against various different backdrops. This means something? The final shot suggests some message about staged images versus the magnificent beauty of nature. I just don’t know what that message actually is.
Grade = C-